Category Archives: 2018: Colorado

And Yet Motorcycles Were a Part of It

“We either make ourselves miserable or make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”

— Carlos Castaneda

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Sept. 4 | Day 5: So we weren’t traveling by motorcycle, but naturally I couldn’t stop thinking about leaving Terra Nova behind and wondering (in random moments) how to prevent it from happening again.

Besides the obvious remedies of sensible packing and taking time to properly load the bike, I started fixating on other motorcycles, ones more suitable for long-distance, two-up travel. Perhaps that was part of the answer.

I started with Harley-Davidson, of course, since we were seeing so many of them on the highway. Harley touring bikes are big, heavy, and comfortable.

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They’re also stable on the road. I remember riding through terrifyingly heavy wind on our way back from Mount Rushmore in 20101 — “It was like someone was trying to kick the bike out from beneath me,” commiserated a fellow rider at a fuel stop2 — and seeing Harley tourers ride through that wind unaffected. It was their weight, low center of gravity, and long wheelbase that helped.

Big, heavy, and comfortable. And expensive, as we found during impromptu visits to Harley dealers3 starting in Hays, Kansas, and continuing during our sweep back and forth across the country.

As noted during our 2015 visit to Premont H-D in Quebec, I like Harley shops — the bikes, the tools, the garage signs on the walls. So we started looking at Harley touring bikes.

Expensive. I liked the Road Glide with the fixed fairing4 but couldn’t countenance the double headlights5. The Street Glide was next, and I liked it, though the fairing is on the forks. The Road King wasn’t bad, either.

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But they are expensive, starting at $19,000 and soaring northward. So buying new is no-go, though there were some interesting used bikes, priced to inflict mild dysrhythmia instead of full-on cardiac arrest.

So we paused at Harley places in Golden, Colorado Springs, Durango, and a few more, where I casually inspected bikes and nonsensically started collecting H-D poker chips, a Harley thing6.

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Since returning home, I’ve looked at other bikes, sport-tourers like the BMW R1200RT, a really nice touring bike with final drive reliability issues, just like my Endurance. Alas, I found Triumph no longer makes the Trophy motorcycle.

Yamaha’s FJR 1300 and Kawasaki Concours are other, less pricey, possibilities.

I’m not sure if I’ll actually get another motorcycle. But I am thinking about it. And looking at bikes while Terra Nova languished at home took some of the sting out of driving a car while we should have been on a motorcycle.


1 — It really was frightening, more so than the Sierra wind blasting across U.S. 395 as I rode Endurance home to Reno from San Diego. I had to pull over and wait out that one.
2 — We met two riders from Pittsburgh at a South Dakota gas station and naturally we talked about the wind. It was somehow comforting to know they were as unsettled as I was.
3 — No matter how you regard Harley, it has an unmatched widespread dealer network. Most of them are located just off interstates, which (while perhaps putting them in a locale class with McDonald’s) makes them easy to find while you’re on the road. In comparison, there’s like one BMW motorcycle dealer in all of Montana, last I looked.
4 — In which the wind-cutting fairing is attached to the frame instead of the front forks. It lessens the effect of wind on steering, since a fork-mounted fairing wants to take the front wheel with it.
5 — It gives the bike a deal-killing space-shippy appearance, at least for me.
6 — Look, I don’t know why. At one to two bucks apiece, they were probably the least-expensive souvenirs of the mission. And there’s a nice tactile pleasure in clicking them together in your hand. Lots of Harley riders collect them, apparently.

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Fizzle, or: How I FUBARed the Mission Prep, Killed Our Long-Distance Motorcycle Ride of the Year, and Pissed Off Myself for the Rest of My Life

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“I have kicked myself mentally a hundred times for that stupidity and don’t think I’ll ever really, finally get over it.”

— Robert Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

Aug. 31 | Day 1: It isn’t easy to admit1, or even remember, but here it is: We ended up not doing a motorcycle ride this year — the motorcycle ride, the thing I long for the most, every year.

Ah, it was my fault. All that work — getting the bike in perfect shape, installing a new saddle, bolting on highway pegs for me, fitting a passenger backrest & longer footpegs for Linda, extending the luggage plate — all for naught.

The cause was simple: I did not allow enough time to pack the bike.

In a series of events too tiresome to list here, we weren’t able to leave until literally 1:30 a.m.

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And then, when I finally get everything aboard, and Linda climbs on, Terra Nova is way too heavy. We take a couple of turns around the block and she handles like the Exxon Valdez.

In the dark, I shut down the Yamaha, stare at it, and force myself to rationally consider the options:

1) Full abort, no ride at all;

2) Delay another day and try and make it work;

3) Take the bike solo, and leave Linda home;

4) Take the bike myself, with Linda following in her car;

5) Leave the bike and take her car to Colorado.

The first is right out, as the Monty Pythoners say. This trip is essential, I’m carrying the memory of an old friend who has died, and Colorado was special to him.

The second is tempting but carries no guarantee. We’re already running late and we have a mission itinerary in which the first few days depend on us being somewhere. Each miss puts us farther behind.

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The third is a complete no-go because I love my wife and we do these things together. It wouldn’t be fun without her.

The fourth is ridiculously, sinfully, wasteful.

The fifth reluctantly wins the day. We have to unsuit — I even had the Camelbak on, filled with two liters of icewater — dock Terra Nova in back of the house, throw the bags (sans motorcycle-related gear) in the back of Linda’s Honda Fit, and drive off.

I seethe for the first few days, until we cross Kansas and get into Colorado and the mountains rise up in front of us. We have places to visit and people to see.

Still, for the entire trip, I can’t help but notice lots and lots of motorcycles on the road. And not one of them is mine.


1 — Which explains why it took me so long to write this.

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The Next Ride, Or: Salvaging An Awful Year

Open Trans-Canada Highway Canadian Rocky Mountains

It started Feb. 19 with the death of Stephen Wargo, one of my oldest and best friends, continued with my mother unexpectedly dying in a hospital on April 15, and persisted with a motorcycle-riding colleague getting killed June 8 while riding a bike.

All those dates, now etched in marble somewhere. An awful year.

Emotionally detached, I went into near-stasis for weeks, focusing on what only needed to be done at that moment. Just numb, no energy or desire for anything else. Everything pretty much went to hell.

Straight to hell, including the motorcycles, which waited silently as I tried to figure out what to do. The covers never came off Linda’s scooters. The battery aboard Endurance flatlined from lack of use. I think I commuted to work on Terra Nova exactly once.

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The one thing we had to do was not give up our annual motorcycle ride. Linda and I have been doing long-distance rides since 1999, with an unbroken string since 2007.

We rode two-up for years, but started riding our own separate bikes in 2013. The only criteria is that we go someplace we’ve never gone before. Someplace with meaning.

At first we looked overseas, with thoughts of renting a bike in Vietnam, Australia, or the U.K.

The U.K. took the lead for a while. I even put up a Michelin map of Great Britain in the hallway and circled destinations like Dundee, Scotland, where Scott and Shackleton’s ship, the RSS Discovery, is now a floating museum; and Dorset, England, where T.E. Lawrence lived at his Clouds Hill cottage.

I highlighted Portmeirion, the tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales, where Patrick McGoohan filmed The Prisoner back in 1966.

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And RAF Fairford, an air base not far from London where my father was stationed in the early 1950s while he was in the Air Force.

But Linda underwent extensive foot surgery in June and the recovery process was slow and painful; she did not think she could safely ride her own bike. Then other circumstances intervened and we regretfully decided it was not prudent to go overseas this year.

That left a domestic ride, with us going two-up on Terra Nova, my Yamaha Super Tenere. But where to go?

And that’s when I started thinking about Wargo1, though I’d never really stopped thinking about him.

He’d hitchhiked to Colorado in 1978 or thereabouts, an epic adventure, with two high school friends. They went to see Wargo’s older brother George, who left Ohio for the adventurous Rockies, made a life there, and never looked back.

I remembered the last conversation Wargo and I had in person, in November 2017; I was getting ready to leave and we were standing outside in his driveway, saying our good-byes. He was talking about Colorado and how much he loved it and how he wanted to retire and move there.

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“It’s like nowhere else, dude,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I really want to go back.”

I thought, well, maybe that’s a trip we could take sometime, and I said something to that effect, and we laughed and nodded and said yes, maybe we could because we stupidly thought we had time.

And then I went home and three months later things started falling apart and I found myself at his funeral in February, giving his eulogy, being his pallbearer, and remembering everything we talked about, especially Colorado.

Colorado. Linda and I crossed the state while traveling from Reno to Washington, D.C., but never spent significant time there. Going two-up on Terra Nova meant we could go farther, even travel cross-country as we did before.

And so the ideas gradually came together and hammered at me: Wargo. Two-up. Farther. Colorado. Of course. Why did I not see this before?

We’ll leave Aug. 31, burn west across I-70 and see what Wargo saw back in 1978. We’ll go to Golden, where Wargo’s older brother George lived, pay homage at George’s grave in Arvada, ride to the summit of Pike’s Peak2, and then loop south through the San Juan Mountains up to Montrose and visit Wargo’s nephew Stephan (George’s son).

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I’ve contacted Stephan to let him know we’re coming and I’ve let Wargo’s sisters know of our plans. I’ve reached out to Wargo’s friends and the two guys who were with him on that epic hitch-hiking odyssey 40+ years ago; I hope to talk with them soon.

Terra Nova is at the Yamaha dealer for full maintenance and new tires. I’ve ordered a new, more comfortable Sargent saddle. Brackets for the passenger pegs have arrived from Ringe, Germany. We’re finally, finally in motion again.

The ride will be a bit of a challenge; we haven’t ridden two-up since 2012, when we went to Glacier National Park aboard Endurance. We’ll have to pack super-light. We’ll be in the Rockies so we’ll have to prep for heat, cold and rain.

I’ll take a framed photograph of Wargo and leave it with his brother George. And I’ll find one rock, just one, from the Colorado mountains and leave it with Wargo when I visit the Northfield-Macedonia Cemetery.

I’ll try to see Colorado the way Steve saw it. I think it won’t be difficult, because — like the Third Man in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land3 — he’ll be there with me.

And while this Colorado motorcycle ride won’t restore what we’ve lost, it will make 2018 just a bit less awful.

1 — We most always called each other by our last names. It was just one of those things.
2 — I started thinking about Pike’s Peak while considering Colorado; I’d read “Across America by Motor-Cycle,” a 1922 book by C.H. Shepherd, an RAF officer who rode a motorcycle from New York to San Francisco after World War I. Linda and I visited Steve in July 2016, the first time I’d seen him in years; he was wearing a Colorado T-shirt. I went looking for a photo of that shirt (for the top of this page) and was surprised to see Pike’s Peak there, too. It conferred further blessing on the mission.
3 — “Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
-But who is that on the other side of you?”